unhealthy doubt

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:5-8

God does not despise the one who struggles with doubt. The classic example of Thomas the doubter comes to mind. There is a gentle rebuke in our Lord’s dealing with him, but the Lord did not reject him.  Actually the raising of doubt can be an expression of faith. We see it throughout Scripture, Job being one prime example. Job along with many psalmists questions God, raises concerns, in essence they are honest to God.

What James is talking about here is fundamentally different. In the context it’s referring to doublemindedness, no longer really grappling with God, or taking God at God’s word. According to James, it isn’t necessarily that the doubter isn’t praying. But evidently it’s either an empty religious exercise, or becomes that since the one praying is not believing God will come through, not trusting God. It comes across to me as a kind of half hearted prayer in contrast to the healthy doubter who is fully engaged in their wrestling with God.

What I believe we can be assured of is that God will honor our sincere attempt to pray as James (and our Lord in the gospels) tells us to here. It’s not like we have to be perfect, though God can give us a certain faith during such times. We seek to be fully committed to God, open to God’s correction along the way. God will help us to grow in faith and offer the prayer of faith, giving us the needed wisdom we’re asking for, or whatever else we may request in God’s will. In and through Jesus.

wisdom breaking through

You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Psalm 51:6

There is a kind of direct wisdom God wants to give us aside from Scripture. Those who can receive it are surely regularly in Scripture as a rule. And the information and formation from Scripture figure into this. And there may be some who are limited in their access to Scripture. This wisdom is taught directly from God in one’s “secret heart” as the psalmist puts it here.

Usually such wisdom is learned in the crush, even cruciformity of life. It is not something abstract, that we can just tuck away into our heads simply to know. No, it’s about life and for life, right on the ground where we live. And again it meets us in areas where we haven’t been wise, or where we especially are in need of wisdom.

It has a character about it that is strikingly different than the run of the mill, off the wall wisdom we have. That is not easy to define, but some characteristics give some clues. If one is in a hurry, in a near panic, then that’s a sign we’re thinking to act on our own wisdom. But if there’s a settledness which accompanies it, with not necessarily all the answers, but at the heart of it, a trust in God, that’s a sign that we’re beginning to receive the needed wisdom from God.

Something I can be much too slow at, but which I’m working on and learning. In and through Jesus.

just keep on trusting

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

“Keep on trucking” is an idiom to encourage people to go on with what they’re doing. Or a friend tells me and I think others at times: “Press on.” Here’s perhaps a more difficult one, because while we need to do it, our dependence is not on ourselves.

We’re told to trust in the Lord, to trust in God with all our heart. What does that mean? What does that look like? I think it means through thick and thin, whatever we’re experiencing, however down we may feel, whatever challenges we’re encountering, whatever discouraging thoughts come our way, we’re to trust, trust, and just keep on trusting in the Lord. Trusting in God’s words to us in Scripture. When we sense God’s voice speaking into our lives.

What does it mean to do this with all one’s heart? Who doesn’t love it when emotions rise, and we’re moved to do such and such? Depending on what it is, at least being moved means that we’re deeply touched, maybe to the core of our beings, perhaps entering into the suffering of others, or feeling the evil of injustice, anger rising in us. But feelings come and go. I doubt that such really effects much change.

How I prefer to see trusting in the Lord with all one’s heart is the idea of putting one’s self entirely into something. Not halfway, not three-quarters of the way. All the way, no holding back. What does that look like in terms of trust, and specifically, trusting God? I’m not sure. It involves experience, yes, but has to go deeper than that. It has to become a habit of our lives, what we do, and work into our very beings, so that is becoming more and more who we are. People who trust in God with no reservations. The Lord will help us. Remember the plea in the gospels: “Lord, I believe! Help me overcome my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24).

Part of what we aspire to in and through Jesus.

insecurity

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.

Psalm 91

Maybe there is no better passage of Scripture to help those of us who often for one reason or another feel insecure. But we need all of Scripture of course, along with seeking to process all of life. Life comes at us with all kinds of reasons to feel insecure. But God in Christ by the Spirit is present and with us to help us through whatever it is we might be facing, in fact through all of life.

We have to remember that God is our loving Parent, that God is indeed love (1 John 4), that God is for us (Romans 8). And this is the case no matter what we face, nothing being able to separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus (again, Romans 8).

But we don’t move away from the feeling of insecurity overnight. And frustratingly, we can fall back into it, after experiencing a sense of God’s peace and watch care over us. This will take time, but God wants us to learn to live more and more in a settled experience of God’s peace. Resting secure because our rest is in God. In and through Jesus.

when under siege: silence

When you are disturbed,[a] do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent.

Psalm 4:4

The context of this psalm is a faithful person or persons being verbally attacked with the implication of physical danger lurking somewhere behind (click above link for entire psalm). The psalm is attributed to David who certainly knew more than his share of such trouble. Most of us experience nothing like that, but given the time we’re in, there definitely is something of this in the air, evident largely in what people are saying, and sometimes in what some have done. And plenty of disturbance (and anger, see above footnote) can accompany that.

What we’re called to here is silence. In this day when our ears are filled with music and podcasts, the news and whatnot, that can be challenging. We’re better off to plug our ears during such difficulties and simply remain in meditative silence. According to this Scripture, the alternative is to sin. Somehow to figure things out ourselves, to get it over with ourselves, instead of casting ourselves on God.

In the midst of the tumult and settling despair, we need to silence ourselves and ponder. Not just something we do in an instant and it’s done. But what we do until it’s done. God will answer, giving us what we need. In and through Jesus.

the shepherd’s leading/guiding

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3

What makes all the difference for the sheep? What is the difference between life and death for them? The shepherd. And specifically the care the shepherd takes of the sheep. And one important aspect of that: leading and guiding.

In our new hymnal, Voices Together, the Benediction for Morning Prayer reads:

God will guide us continually, and satisfy our needs in parched places, and we shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Amen.

Voices Together, 985

Notice that the shepherd leads, the shepherd does not drive the sheep or coerce them. They simple follow the shepherd’s lead. The shepherd goes before them. Jesus leads the way for us. Yes, by his example in trusting in his Father and following even to the point of the death of the cross. But clearing the way for us so that we can live in the same blessing in which he lives.

It’s vitally important for us, as Christ’s sheep to follow the lead of our Shepherd. The Spirit enables us to do that, along with Scripture. We need to be intent in simply following. Not going off and doing our own thing, which we’re ever so prone to be doing. As if we either have to figure it out, or have it figured out. That comes to a dead end, darkness, and finally, death. No, we move only with the Lord’s leading.

That will give us the light we need in our own darkness, in the darkness of this world. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s invitation

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I don’t know about you, but I know about me. It’s quite easy for me to take the burden of the world on my shoulders, or mostly the burden of my own world, which of course like everyone else’s, is challenging in itself. Even when I manage to get some soul rest in God, it’s not long before something else becomes concerning, and disconcerting.

Jesus’s invitation is absolute, for everyone at all times in every circumstance. Of course it’s specific: To those who are working hard at carrying heavy burdens and weary. Maybe fearful that they can’t keep it up, or just accepting the inevitable, and plodding on. It is to those that Jesus’s appeal comes. Not to the complacent, or those who think they can handle life themselves.

It’s an invitation to a yoke, an easy one. Alongside Jesus who surely bears the brunt of it, but who teaches us to live as he lived on earth: in complete dependence on the Father, trusting and then knowing that God will take care of it.

Something we need to keep coming back to again and again. And better yet, learn to live in. In and through Jesus.

do not worry about anything

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

There is plenty to worry and be anxious about, and to fret over in the world. In our own worlds, close to home, and expanding from there our own neighborhoods, area, nation where we live, and from there, the entire earth. There is plenty to be concerned about.

But what are we told here? We’re told that we who are in Christ Jesus are not to worry (or be anxious: NIV, with other translations) about anything. Instead as we seek to rejoice in the Lord always, and let our gentleness be known to all, we’re to pray, voicing our concerns to God, and asking God to take care of them. Giving thanks for God’s help before. And just trusting in and knowing the God to whom we’re praying. God will take care of it.

That doesn’t mean we’re not in the works of God’s answer. But it does mean that ultimately the answer never comes from us, or because of us, but only from God. God may use a mediary such as an angel. God often does use others, or some resource to help us.

And we need to bring concerns to God in prayer this way as our first priority when concerns arise or our present. And keep doing that over time. Some will be projects in process, while others need to be attended to and taken care of.

The big point I want to make in this post is that we’re not to worry about anything at all. Yes, we want to be aware of everything, though some things will escape our notice. We can pray to God about that as well, whatever we might be unaware of. Yes, we want to do the best we can. But we’re meant to depend on God to help us through not just some things, but everything. And God does not want us to be passive in that, but active. It’s not at all like, “Well, we’re not to worry about anything, so I just won’t pay attention to anything.” No. We’re to be fully engaged, but in all of that to worry about nothing, because we know God has our backs, and every side. And that God will take care of it.

We need to let this soak into our hearts. As we no longer worry, God helping us, then we’ll begin to experience that peace of God which surpasses all understanding, beyond that. What is meant to replace our worry is God’s peace. To guard our hearts and minds. God will take care of everything as we commit all to him. In and through Jesus.

faith must work to work

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

James 2:14-26

We can say we have faith in God, in God’s promises, and that’s all well and good. But it won’t make the needed difference unless we act on it. The difference certainly refers to others. In James’s words here, helping the sister or brother in need, or with reference to Rahab, for one’s own family as well as for Rahab herself. What I’m especially referring to here is one’s own salvation. When we experience that salvation, or in the words in this passage, justification, we naturally want to see everyone else experience the same. But when we’re struggling with a lack in being settled into that in our spirits, ourselves, then we can’t see our way to really have that same longing for others.

What is absolutely essential in a sense is being willing to burn all bridges down behind us, so that there’s no turning back, but that our faith is expressed in action. If we say we believe something, then we have to act on that, or in the words of James, our faith is barren, even dead.

Abraham is the stark case in point here. He was asked to sacrifice his son no less, Isaac, on an altar he would have to prepare himself as a whole burnt offering to God. Certainly a mind boggling, simply unfathomable thing to ask of someone, at least in our world. In Abraham’s world, from what I’ve read, it may not have been as shocking. We read elsewhere that Abraham reasoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead if need be to fulfill God’s promise that through Abraham and his seed Isaac, Abraham would become the father of many nations, heir of the world, and that all nations would be blessed through him (Hebrews 11:19; Romans 4:13, 17; Galatians 3:8). Just the same, it couldn’t have been easy.

But as we see in Genesis 22, there’s no hesitation to fulfill what God commanded. Maybe there was something in Abraham’s mind, like, “Let’s get this over with.” We don’t know what precisely was in his mind, except as mentioned above, because Scripture doesn’t tell us. But Abraham went all the way with no hesitation, hard as that had to have been. And raising the knife was stopped by the angel of the Lord before plunging the knife into his beloved son, the son who was to be heir, and through whom God’s blessing was to be extended to all.

James is telling us that we’re to have this same kind of faith. We either do it, and that includes the hard thing which maybe at the time makes no sense to us. But we do so in obedience to God, resting on God’s promise of blessing and good. In and through Jesus.

blessedly not let off the hook (by James)

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

James gets right to it, but throughout the letter from start to finish there’s no letting up. He’s certainly a pastor, but gives us needed insight into one aspect of pastoral ministry as well as what the church is to be. Yes, there’s mercy and patience. But for those who really follow Christ, there are certain nonnegotiables.

If we’re to follow Christ we do what we’re told here. If we fail to do that, and I’m referring to sincere honest attempts, not letting up, then we aren’t following, indeed can’t follow Christ. We either consider it nothing but joy, whatever trial we’re in, letting endurance have its full effect toward full maturity in Christ, or else we’re not. We either ask God for wisdom, as indeed we’re all lacking in that of ourselves, and ask in faith without doubting. Or we plain don’t. There might be something in between, but James would tell us that’s a part of being double-minded, and thus unstable in every way. As Eugene Peterson points out in The Message, that can be simply a matter of “keeping all your options open.” No, we either trust God or we don’t. The difference between darkness and light.

This has been helping me immensely, but I can’t let go of it. And it’s not like we’re passive and no longer involved in life. But that God is there to help us through whatever it is we’re facing, whatever responsibilities we have to fulfill. God wants to use all of life to mature us, and to help us gain wisdom. As we not only commit ourselves to this course, but follow through on it, God helps us to live in God’s peace, as well as get God’s help.

An important part of what it means to follow Christ along with others in this life. In and through Jesus.